Jeremiah 29.1-7; Psalm 66.1-11; 2 Timothy 2.1-15; Luke 17.11-19
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM GOD?
(Jesus heals ten lepers)
- FAITH: Though only recorded for us by Luke, the event before us today is familiar, resting in the consciousness of many of us like a bright, hard nugget! Why is this? Is it because of its simplicity? Its challenge to our lack of gratitude? The irony that the one who goes back to say thank-you to Jesus was a Samaritan? Or that Jesus heals at a distance (as with the nobleman’s son, in John: 4.46-54)?
The narrative is brief, if powerful. Ten men with a nasty contagious or infectious skin condition (‘leprosy’?) that forces them to live away from home, family, and normal community, in that era’s distressing equivalent of exile, an isolation ward or quarantine station, encounter Jesus on the road, at the margin of society, ‘along the border between Samaria and Galilee’. They clearly know of Jesus, and recognise him; and, perhaps excited at the possibilities of this chance encounter, yet still keeping their obligatory distance, they call out in a loud voice: ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’
In this action, surely, even as a group initiative, we have an example of faith. They knew their need, they see one whom they believe can meet their need, and they respectfully ask for mercy and pity and healing.
- OBEDIENCE: And their world changes in an instant:
But let us look more closely:
They called him ‘Master’, and he showed they were correct: he is the Master, the one who binds the strong man, the evil one, and lets his captives free (Luke 11.21-2=Mk 3.27). Here is evidence of the Kingdom of God breaking into our world. Here is revealed a glimpse of the Judge-Vindicator, the Divine Son of Man, whom Christians recognise (far beyond the borders of Galilee and Samaria) as the international, indeed the cosmic Saviour.
What begins the change in their world is the obedience of the ten lepers, following on from the simple faith of their appeal to Jesus: ‘When Jesus saw them, he said to them, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.’ (v.14) The action of obedience triggers the healing.
- THANKSGIVING: And yet the unfolding story makes clear that the faith expressed in the lepers’ request to Jesus, and their obedience in acting upon his direction to get a clean bill of health from the authorities, is not sufficient, not complete, as a response to Christ the Master. “Jesus’s mercy is offered to all, but they must acknowledge what God has done through him; to faith must be added thanksgiving” (IHMarshall, The Gospel of Luke). The irony is that it was the Jewish lepers who should have been mindful of this rather than the Samaritan.
What this illustrates to us is that salvation is mare than physical. Miracles are rather ambiguous: we must ask what is their real point, and be mindful that ‘healing’ and ‘salvation’ are both translations of the one word, so that the miracle of God’s mercy and grace “is not properly experienced unless it leads to a change of inner orientation” (IHM).
- WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM GOD? Here is the ongoing challenge for us:
What do you want from God?
There are some who come to church only when things are going badly.
There are some who come only when things are going well.
There are some who stay away, not daring to risk disappointment.
There are some who pray only in a crisis (‘no atheists in foxholes’).
There is the true story of a man, diagnosed with a serious cancer and a poor prognosis, who accepted a friend’s invitation to attend the Healing Service in the Cathedral, and became a devoted and regular member of that fellowship. He went into remission, but soon after ceased his attendance. When asked by his friend why this was, he replied that he had got what he went for, and did not need to worship any more. He saw his involvement as a transaction, not a transformation.
What completes the transformation of the one leper is that he returns to thank Jesus, praising God as he comes: ‘Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him…’ (v.15-16) The others seem content with a transaction, without inner transformation. The Samaritan leper sees the implication of his outer healing, and is changed within as well. The words of Jesus drive home the point: ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner? Then he said to him, ’Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well’ (v.17-19). It is this transformation that God wishes to effect in us. May this be what we want from Him, why we are here today, and what we want for our friends and neighbours, our children and our young people. Faith is made effective when it is expressed, not only in dependence, but in obedience, and in thanksgiving, in deep gratitude.